Over 400 firefighters, who died in the line of duty in 2001, will be honored in Washington, D.C. October 4-7 drawing thousands to the 21st observance of the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend.
Venues in the nation's capital will include the MCI Center, a 20,000-seat sports and concert arena. Plans for other areas of activities are still being formulated.
The service brings together the victim's families, fire and emergency services leaders and federal, state, and local government officials for a weekend of honoring and remembering these Bravest.
Usually the event is held at the U.S. Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, MD where the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation is headquartered. But this year's service will be necessarily different in scope.
"The unprecedented number of firefighters being honored this year will necessitate our moving the memorial service from the site of the National Fallen Firefighters Monument in Emmitsburg," stated Foundation Chairman Hal Bruno. "The loss of every firefighter is a national tragedy, and this year's service will honor those who died at the World Trade Center along with those who made the ultimate sacrifice across the country."
The events for the weekend include a Saturday motorcycle procession and Saturday night candlelight ceremony. One day will be set aside just for families and coworkers of fallen firefighters. Through a variety of activities they share experiences, and begin lasting friendships. Members of the Survivor Support Network are available to give information and support to families attending for the first time. Experienced grief specialists lead small group sessions that allow survivors to meet with others in similar situations.
Sunday will feature a procession of fire fighting apparatus, an honor guard march, remembrances of the lost heroes, and special tributes during the public memorial service. Twenty thousand are expected to join in America's day of tribute to the fallen fire heroes at the MCI Center.
Foundation Executive Director Ron Siarnicki said planning is well underway to accommodate the thousands of people expected. The Foundation has spent around $750,000 in the past for all of the activities, events and accommodations for the family members of each fallen firefighter who are invited for the weekend.
This year, because there are four times the average annual number of families who lost a firefighter, and because the Washington, D.C. prices for hotels, etc, are higher then the rural Maryland setting used in the past, Siarnicki is looking at upward to $4 million to cover the 1000 plus rooms and other things necessary. He is asking for assistance and has found some willing donors at this time.
On March 11, NFFF representatives will travel to Tallahassee and accept a $1,046,000 check from the Florida Fire & Emergency Services Foundation and the Foundation of the Florida Fire Chiefs' Association. That day, the Florida fire service will honor the six-month anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center resulting in the death of 343 New York City firefighters.
Siarnicki is also putting together committees to handle the logistics. A group of local fire department personnel will coordinate planning for visiting departments. A group will coordinate the main memorial service at the MCI Center and a third group will work with the fallen firefighter families.
Although the service is over seven months away, Siarnicki said President George W. Bush has been invited and officials are 'hopeful' he will attend as he did last year with his wife in Emmitsburg.
At this time, the only other service scheduled to honor fallen firefighters on a national level will be the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) 16th annual memorial held in Colorado Springs, CO, September 21. IAFF spokesman George Burke said they are working on arrangements at this time for what will be their largest service ever.
The IAFF service that was scheduled last fall in New York City, and then cancelled amidst debate of timing and control, has not been discussed further according to Burke. Although the IAFF said at the time they would consider rescheduling after Mayor Giuliani's administration turned over the reigns of control to new Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Burkes said the idea is still there but that is as far as it goes at this time.
Congress created the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation to lead a nationwide effort to honor America's fallen firefighters. Since 1992, the non-profit Foundation has developed and expanded programs that fulfill that mandate. Each October, the Foundation sponsors the official national tribute to all firefighters who died in the line of duty during the previous year.
The Foundation will release additional details on the Memorial Service and related events announced as soon as the plans are finalized.
Siarnicki said the Memorial Weekend is expected to return to the Emmitsburg site at the National Fire Academy next year.